Fast Forward: MIA for some reasons

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I have not been around for quite some time and this does nothing for my “go on and write regularly for someone else than yourself and your journal/diary/notebook/mazy mind”–plan. Of course there are reasons for this, though none of those reasons are good enough to explain my being MIA for such a long time.

First, of course, there was the conference; my trip to London followed shortly after my last entry, my talk went well (though there were only a few people in the attendance, but those who were there seemed interested and attentive) and I loved the atmosphere at the university. Of course we stayed for a few days, enjoying one of my favorite cities ever. London was amazing as always (I have been there 5 times, and maybe I can think of some interesting stuff to share in another post), and returning to this small provincial town where I live was hard (AS ALWAYS).

But coming home was not that hard for long because…

…second, I moved to a new apartment which I now share with wonderguy (and our cat!). This new apartment is pretty much downtown, and it is just wonderful. So in a way I returned home only to find a new and–in some way at least–improved home to return to in the future. Moving took some time, 6 weeks to be more precise, and it was exhausting. I seized this excellent opportunity to throw out tons of stuff I have not used in years – having read enough “declutter your life”-blog posts for a lifetime, this 6-week-move was the perfect outlet for all my idle knowledge.

Still, within all this chaos I found some time to read, even more than earlier this year. Also, I started writing and “writing” again, so there appear some light at the end of this tunnel I call PhD studies…Hence I will return regularly, finally (even if this includes hasty drafts like this one). Because that’s the plan, and now there are no excuses left. Not even bad ones.

Never finishing anything at all – 4 (or more) steps to succeed

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I have finished my talk some weeks ago, ready to edit it a bit here and there and in the end having weeks to rehearse it (…something that is reallyreallyreally important for non-native-speakers!!!) – at least that was my plan. Of course, quite the opposite happened. After finishing my first ‘draft,’ my supervisor and wonderguy (who is also my colleague, a fellow comparative literature graduate) both added their two cents, poignantly remarking that this paper will be great for all those who already know what I am working on – everyone else may feel a bit puzzled, asking him/herself what that chick out there is actually talking about. So I was obviously NOT finished. Not at all. It took me two more nights to recreate a sort of “finally finished”-feeling, and I still think it’s more a feeling than a fact. Especially since I’ve started rehearsing, realizing that I’m still changing certain passages to make them more understandable (and easier to read, to be more precise). So again, the final version is not so final after all. But editing can be tricky and a never-ending-story – it has always been very difficult for me to constrain my pedantic inner critic and carefully approach a final version I really ‘like’…

I know a lot of people are only too familiar with this struggle. For the lucky ones who NEVER had the joyous experience of questioning one’s own intellect and sanity over one small passage on page 5 of a) the last chapter of the second novel you wrote at the age of 22/31/40/53 OR b) the 235th paper you wanted to submit to a prestigious journal where you already published three other papers but still, this time they could finally realize just how awful and inapt you actually are … For those lucky ones I may offer some valuable instructions on how to finally stop finalizing stuff:

  1. Decide to work in a foreign language (at least NOT your first language) OR a jargon you are in no way familiar with – no matter how good you get and how hard you study, you will always feel inadequate, insecure, and not sure of even the most basic expressions. Always.
  2. Pursue new opportunities. Find some side aspect of your work you never before thought of investigating further, combine your familiar knowledge with new discoveries and realize that you might have missed some very important stuff which could have been really, really important for your study/thesis/paper at some earlier stage, meaning you should rework pretty much everything. This seems overwhelming, so you decide to go for a beer/coffee/tea/vegansoychailattewithextracinnamon to do some brainstorming, after which you decide to just never ever return.
  3. Purchase the book How to disappear completely and live free. It’s from the 1970ies, providing information totally unsatisfactory nowadays, and no matter what you work on, you will forget everything you ever wanted to find out about that thing you work on, instead imagining to live on some Mexican beach, selling homemade tequila. Then purchase the book How to disappear: Erase your digital footprint, leave false trails, and vanish without a trace.
  4. Realize there was a mix-up at Amazon after receiving How to disappear completely: On Modern Anorexia instead. Or maybe you mixed something up. Anyway, after reading it you decide that disappearing might not be that desirable after all and return to your research/work projects.
  5. Edit your paper/talk/thesis as much as seems necessary, but don‘t overdo it. Then give it to some trusted friends and colleagues, ask for their opinions, fear their opinions, and start editing again until either your deadline arrives or you retire.

If you need additional inspiration, go play catch in a parking lot, because you obviously missed the point of never-ever-finishing-anything at all. And yes I know, this apparently does not make any sense.  Welcome to my world!

Pain, pain go away, please don’t come back another day…

Times when I have to be highly efficient are often followed by days on which I can hardly get out of my mental mess; days when I ask myself why there is so much pain and suffering in this world and why so many of us have to go through sorrow and misery, just so they exist somewhere on this planet, physically existing while being surrounded by drought, war, destruction, poverty, illness, and abuse. There is an imbalance in this world that is beyond human understanding, even though it is the result of human actions, of greed, hate, anger, and ignorance. … You see what I’m getting at? This is one version of the recurrent emotional festival known as “My Dark Days”, this is how I often think and feel during those times (like, right now). In German it can be subsumed under the term “Weltschmerz”, which in English would mean something like “world-weariness” and does by far not sound as dramatic as the German “Weltschmerz.” The Perpetuum-mobile-like questions of global imbalances and alike do not only correspond wonderfully with this Weltschmerz I bear within my heart from time to time (or should I say, which seems to break free, roam the open spaces of my heart and soul, only to withdraw until it once again wants to share its sullenness with my conscious mind) BUT are also a result of my academic work.

I’ve been working on war literature for at least a decade, though only with my diploma thesis did I decide to professionally focus on war writings in a post/neo-colonial-world (mainly wars–or ‘operations’–initiated by the US, primarily in Vietnam and Iraq). I’ve read about killing, being (nearly) killed, bodies blown apart, blown-off limbs, terror, torture, rape, abuse, destruction, and misery for 6 years now. Even though sometimes I read a “normal” book, everyday politics hardly give me a break. No matter if I want to take a step back for a few days, there is always something bringing me back to “my” work. War, terror, death, destruction.

I love research work, I love to explore the things hidden below, I love to question standards, traditions, and all that stuff certain societies “agreed on” even though it is dangerous, questionable and just plain stupid. But more often than not, especially during my dark days, I lose it all; I lose the distance to my work, this distance I desperately need, and I get angry as fuck. Angry with all sides involved in those struggles. And I get frustrated. I think back, when I was a child and everything–my world at least–seemed orderly and simple, and I was watching “The A-Team” and “MacGyver” with my gramps and the world was my playground because everything had its place. I think about that now, asking myself ‘what would the A-Team do?’ How would Hannibal, B.A. and Faceman handle all this crap? Why, exactly, was shit hitting the fan THAT intense?

In the end, on those days, dark days filled with anger, rage, and a sort of total emotional overload, it is not about one side or the other; there are only losers in this game. It is about all the pain and destruction that all this hate and fear and anger bring into the world, pretty much everywhere. This is what I mainly work on, this is what I read about and work on constantly. And I’m angry at myself for being such a wimpy whiner, crying about the stories I read and work on when there are people out there, thousands, millions of people, who have to live through this, who have to survive this in order to write about it, so a sissy Western scholar can create her own fucking drama around it while working on it. I am angry at myself for not being able to keep the distance I need to stay healthy.

I need a certain distance. We all need a distance to certain things, both professionally and personally. Losing your distance means losing a lot of time and energy cleaning up the mess your oversensitive crap made.

Pain, pain, go away…

Setting some priorities…I guess.

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As some may remember, I’m about to give a talk in a wonderful large European city (like, in 6 weeks, but nevertheless, again, let’s just feel stressed out already). Now, some may wonder how to prepare adequately for an occasion like that – at least I do. But obviously I am not the only one, as I got an impressive amount of results when asking auntie google “How to prepare for a talk,” “how to present at a conference,” and “lol best conference fails ever.”

So, I just finished the first draft of my talk 2 days ago and already I’m totally overwhelmed thinking about editing it – once something is done, I’m over it in some way, and I have to force myself to rework it, especially since I’m often too afraid to find too much stuff that needs editing. I prefer my tasks to be explicit and distinct, step by step, and once finished, they magically disappear and something new will materialize out of nowhere (and yes, or course I’m really looking forward to editing about 200 pages of case studies I wrote for my dissertation as first drafts, so it might get easier for me to develop a strong theoretical framework and some logic in my arguments. I finished the last of 6 case studies in January. I have not looked at one of them yet. Not even at the one I finished in January last year.).Because my mind is always on the go and I got the attention span of a 3-year-old, my life has to happen all around this very obtrusive feature of mine. Of course, this is also the perfect condition for working on a long-time project like a dissertation. But that is another topic. Today it’s about the talk, again. At least as far as I can remember.

So now that I accomplished the basic task – even though it is still too long and I already know some wordings are not appropriate, so I have to work on it at least once more before handing it to my proofreading-fairy – I move on to the next big thing for the big-city-event: what to wear for my big day (like, something comfortable and still suitable, which will be challenging to find in a closet that screams “boho skate chick” since 2003), where to go after the conference, which markets to go to, which sights to see, how to find the hotel and how to afford eating in GB. Also, I’m used to travel light, but I never before traveled for work; so this will be a new sort of ‘travel light’ since I need to bring some basic work stuff with me. Guess who is already freaking out about what she actually has to pack (I’m one of those people who bring half of their bookshelves to presentations, just so “you see what I’m talking about”…), fearing she might forget THE most important paper just so she could ‘keep it light.’

And I still don’t have a new passport.

But did you know that with the last update there are now some new cats in Neko Atsume?

The Resurrection of Jack Duluoz…or so…?

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I’ve always had a particular liking for British and American authors, even back when my English was really bad and I had to rely on translations. This love for stories and books from the island and other continents deepened once my English language skills advanced to the point where I could start reading my favorite books in their original version. This broadened my knowledge on authors from the English-speaking world as well as further improved my English.

One of my first memorable encounters with American literature was Jack Kerouac and On the Road. I was about 14, or maybe 15, and because I had already been to the US twice, I could remember the wide and open landscapes he wrote about and I longed for these exact landscapes. I too wanted to ride into an adventurous unknown future amidst friends. I too wanted to be free. And I too wanted to be Dean Moriarty –like so many others – the alter ego that wasn’t Jack’s, but haunted him to the grave. [Also, I did not care the slightest that Dean was a male character – I’ve never cared much about gender roles and images and I still don’t. I was 15, I  just wanted to enjoy a road trip with someone who seemed like a true companion]

I read The Dharma Bums, The Subterraneans, The Town and the City, and Maggie Cassidy, though I never finished the last one as my demons came for some lengthy stay just when I started the book and Maggie Cassidy is not the kind of book I can focus on while at the same time trying to stay mentally sane. Moreover I can remember that The Dharma Bums left a deep impression; once again I felt a longing for solitude, nature and being free, even though I was a few years older than when reading On the Road.

Just recently I started to re-read Jack Kerouac’s works, and in some cases reading it for the first time in the original English version. Two early works of Kerouac – The Sea is my Brother and The Haunted Life – were published ‘just recently’ (a.k.a within the last few years – sometimes I miss important literary milestones thanks to too much literary work) and this prompted me to get back to Jack after so much time passed between our last encounter years earlier.

When I started reading Jack Kerouac in my teens and continued to do so throughout my early twenties, I was myself an avid writer. In some ways I was heavily influenced by Jack, not so much his style – I’m not musical enough, though I love jazz – but rather by his passion, his philosophies and his life in general, always on the move, always travelling and moving throughout the country, always writing (at least I thought so; much later I found out that most of his books published after On the Road were written well before, and that Jack had serious problems to produce any sort of writing since his drinking got out of hand). I wanted to live like Jack and to write like Jack. Which was of course not possible. Thankfully. Also, I never had the stamina to aim for a novel, I’m rather the short-story-type of writer – this may be my way of truly appreciating Jack’s life and personal (hi)story, his unsteadiness and constant rambling cross-country: not being able to stick to one long story but rather jumping from one to another as I liked.

I have not written anything ‘creative’ (‘arty’) in ages, for various reasons: working to get a degree, working as a freelance writer (believe me, one absolutely great way to ruin any sort of creative writing is working as a freelance writer for web contents, online advertisement and alike), demons. But, as I recently rediscovered good old Jack and plan to find out if my love for his writing is still there somewhere, how it has changed after all those years and finally (finally!) reading just English versions, I’m also curious if the pure act of reading Kerouac once again may serve as a catalyst for my own writing. It’s not so much that I think I’m THAT great, but I always loved writing and it’s pretty much the only talent I have (I can also just stand upright and breathe regularly on my own, but that’s rather training than talent).

As a way to spur my academic works (and writing) as well, I just recently started to write daily, in various forms, may it be a blog post, a lengthy diary entry or part of my dissertation (or my talk!!!). It works just fine, at least for now, and maybe, maybe, one day I may finally find how Jack is resurrecting my inner writer in one way or the other. Maybe. Would be fun. And I would again return to being a bit of a cliché…

Giving a talk, losing a mind…

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A few weeks ago I sent a conference proposal to the organizers of an upcoming event; I finished it hastily, of course having waited until the last possible moment to get it out there, and wonderguy did his best revising it even though he does not work with the English language often. Since I just wanted to show my supervisor that I at least once sent out a proposal and never ever actually expected anything coming out of it, I was not only shocked, but also deeply disturbed that they indeed were “delighted” to ‘invite’ me to talk at their conference in London in May 2016.

I’ve never been to a conference, not actively, not as someone standing there, giving a talk, reading a paper, whatever. I always thought only professionals, established scholars with a certain name and tons of degrees and stuff like that are active participants at conferences; not someone like me, a provincial freestyle PhD-student, trying to untie the huge brain knot she has in her head regarding her work(s). I’m not a professional, I’m not even close to being one.

And even though there is still some time left (more than two months, to be a bit more precise), I’m already totally nervous and stressed out because I feel like I have to be prepared for every nasty and awful question possible (and there are tons of those), therefor I’ll have to re-read and re-research everything I ever got my hands on. This, of course, is just impossible, which means I can only hope that my blood pressure will lower some day before May and I will also rely on the fact that there won’t be enough time for the audience to ask all the nasty and awful questions possible because my talk will probably (hopefully!!!) only last at around 20 minutes, with 10 minutes or so for discussion, which is not enough time to kill me verbally. At least I hope so.

Also, I can’t actually afford attending the conference, because London is wonderful and expensive and so are the flights. Still, of course, I will go. I can do magic (I hope).

Not to forget this grown-up business, like finding a cheap flight and hotel to stay, and of course getting a new passport, since the Brits are getting ready to show the world their extraordinary uniqueness by leaving the EU (an idea I will no comment any further, out of respect for, uhm, people and stuff, and also because I love London and some other places too much to piss them off…) which means I should probably not rely on looking nice and friendly and very EU-ish, but rather get a new passport IN TIME; in short, adulting all over the place like a pro.

But still, there is always time to check Neko Atsume; never miss an opportunity to spend some time with virtual pets who pay for your efforts in fish.